Environment

A Turbulent Wildfire Is Ravaging Canada’s Oil Capital

Tens of thousands of Fort McMurray residents had to flee their homes on short notice, abandoning their belongings as a black sky loomed overhead, literally raining down ashes.
May 4, 2016, 2:41pm

As a horrifying, holy-shit-this-is-really-happening wildfire continues to rage throughout the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray, the province's largest evacuation in history is underway.

Fort McMurray is the heart of Canada's oil-sands production and was already caught in the crosshairs of the industry's latest boom and bust economy. For a town scrambling to make sense of its financial future, this disaster is especially devastating.

Tens of thousands of residents had to flee their homes on short notice, abandoning their belongings, memories, and history, as a black sky loomed overhead, literally raining down ashes.

Unfortunately, high temperatures (the area is expected to hit above 86 degrees today), low humidity, and strong winds continue to fuel the wildfires, and the situation is expected to get worse in the short term.

Heavy smoke rises above Alberta Highway 63 near Fort McMurray as a huge wildfire has forced the evacuation of the entire population of the Canadian city. Photo via Canadian Press

People are in full-on fucking panic mode and rightly so. The fire, which started over the weekend and seemed under control early Tuesday, took a dramatic turn yesterday, reminding citizens of the precarious nature of their situation. Descriptions of chaos colored reports from Twitter last night, as Albertans took in the reality of what they were facing.

— Holly Ayearst (@hollerslyfe)May 4, 2016

In a late afternoon update yesterday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley stressed her focus is on the safety of the city and its people.

"As frustrating and as scary as it is to leave your home, it's not as frustrating and scary as to find that you're trapped," she said.

As of early Wednesday morning, several neighborhoods are reporting serious loss and damage. The Beacon Hill area was especially hard hit and reported that 80 percent of its homes had been destroyed. As photos emerge today of that neighborhood in particular, it's impossible not to feel pretty shitty about the sheer destruction ravaging the province.

Another devastating picture coming out of Beacon Hill, where 80% of homes have been lost.— Carol Amadeo (@CarolAmadeoCBC)May 4, 2016

AB Transportation escorting a fuel tanker on Hwy 63 to assist stranded motorists. — Edmonton Journal (@edmontonjournal)May 4, 2016

Makeshift shelters are being set up in neighboring towns like Lac La Biche, as arenas and community centers prepare for an unprecedented number of people.

Vivid photos and video of the devastating disaster showed fires gutting much of Fort Mac's downtown area and engulfing Highway 63, which reported a "wall of flames" Tuesday evening and where many stranded motorists had to spend the night.

Amazingly, no injuries or fatalities have been reported yet.

Follow Amil Niazi on Twitter.